When time and funding permit, each flower (each plant species) will have its own page, and its own PDF, and eventually its own PPT so that professors and students have plenty of material on Guatemala (and Honduras, etc) to study.

Heliconia adflexa, Coban, Guatemala, Hotel Monja Blanca, FLAAR, by Nicholas Hellmuth

This space is for flowers
we have recently found and photographed.

Reports by FLAAR Mesoamerica
on Flora & Fauna of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo
Peten, Guatemala, Central America

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Tasiste palm (Acoelorraphe wrightii) can be over 9 meters high?

Posted Feb 06, 2020

You can find tasiste palm “trees” either in grassland savannas (we have found a previous undocumented grassland savanna east of Nakum, Peten) or in tasistal ecosystems. In a grassland savanna there are clusters of tasiste trees perhaps every 5 to 20 meters (the rest of the space is grasses with perhaps some Jicara calabash trees or Nance fruit trees).

In a tasistal you can find half a million or more tasiste palms within an area of 300 meters wide by 3 to 5 kilometers long. Here the tasiste trees are literally solid (with only a few centimeters open space between dense clusters of these trees). Jicara and Nance are not as common here, but we have found jicara in each of the two tasistal areas so far (in the Petexbatun area, Sayaxche, Peten, Guatemala).

Since the savannas and tasistal areas are burned by local people almost every year, the tasiste trees tend to be only 2 to 4 or so meters high. So it is no surprise that botanists say “the palms measure up to 4 meters.” (Laderman 1997: 241). Standley and Steyermark estimate their height up to 8 meters for Guatemala (1958: 278).

Behind Hotel Ecologico Posada Caribe, Julian (owner of the hotel) showed us an area with tasiste palm. Since these are protected (not burned each year) they grow taller each year. I estimate there were lots of tasiste here over 9 meters tall and would be worth measuring them to see if any reached 12 meters in height (since if there are large trees around them, they have to grow tall to get sun). In a tasistal it is “solid tasiste” so not many other trees to shade them.


Click to enlarge image

This Acoelorrhaphe wrightii was so tall I had to back away to try to get most of the palm in a single (iPhone Xs) photo. It’s the tree in the back middle of the photo, with the fronds high in the treetops area. Would be helpful to actually measure it since my estimate of “over 9 meters” is a visual calculation.

But either way, the FLAAR team has now documented a height taller than that for the prestigious Flora of Guatemala botanical monograph. Unexpectedly these respected botanists for Guatemala did not list one single solitary tasiste palm for Peten…they document Acoelorrhaphe wrightii only for Alta Verapaz and Izabal (1958: 277-278).




Happy Christmas 2019 wishes you FLAAR

Posted Dec 10, 2019


We prepared our Christmas message by writing the words with chile chocolate on top of a bed of cacao beans. We bought these in the Q'eqchi' Mayan markets of Coban, Alta Verapaz, last weekend.

Chile chocolate is a special chile used to flavor Maya cacao drinks. The cacao beans from Theobroma cacao trees are the source of cocoa, used to make chocolate.

Both the Maya, Aztec, Zapotec, Mixtec and everyone else in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, etc. all grew and drank liquids made with cacao. Several dozen plants were used as flavorings. We have worked for many years to find each plant. We did this because the last time I spoke with Yale University professor Michael Coe, he said that if he had time to rewrite his cacao book he would do much more research on all the flavorings. So I accepted this as an inspirational challenge.




Differences between a tasistal “savanna” and
a typical grassland savanna with tasiste palm?

Posted December 10, 2019



This photograph by David Arvy (FLAAR Mesoamerica) shows how thick the tasiste palm are in a tasistal. We estimate, literally, 1 million individual tasiste palms in this one area.

We estimate about 1 million tasiste palm trees are in this one single tasiste savanna (estimated 150 to 200 meters wide by 3 to 5 km long) that we first learned about and visited in October and then last week spent 3 days studying up-close. In local Spanish, any savanna with masses of tasiste palms are called a tasistal.

In distinction, I estimate less than several hundred tasiste palm trees are in the seasonally inundated Savanna East of Nakum (that we discovered from aerial photos and then hiked to twice). This grassland savanna is almost one kilometer wide by two or three kilometers long in size.

The Savanna of 3 Fern Species (that I discovered from aerial photos west of Yaxha and then hiked long distances to reach twice) has only a hundred or so clusters of tasiste palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii, called palmetto palm in Belize and Florida). This is the smallest of the three PNYNN area savannas.

In the Savanna adjacent to Naranjo sector of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo (showed to us by Vilma Fialko and Raul Noriega and with Horacio Palacios) we found at most a dozen or so tasiste palms (it we have the opportunity to study this savanna-cibal ecosystem again perhaps we can find at most a hundred tasiste palms).

So a “savanna with tasiste” and a “tasistal savanna” are two totally different ecosystem terms: again, potentially a MILLION tasiste palms in the one tasistal. If funds become available we would like to physically measure and physically map each savanna. Our interest is to find and document plants in areas other than hilltop vegetation, other than hillside vegetation, and other than bajo tinto vegetation (since all these have been studied for decades). Two of the three savannas in PNYNN and the newly discovered tasistal savanna, have, to our knowledge, never previously been published.

t can help archaeologists, ecologists, and other scholars to learn about each distinct kind of ecosystems that were near ancient Maya sites. If agriculture was probably very different 2000 years ago than the slash-and-burn milpa agriculture that is used throughout Mesoamerica today, then potentially the seasonally inundated savannas of Peten surely were utilized by the Classic Maya. This is another reason we are working on making lists of every single plant that is very happy growing in these seasonally inundated flatlands.




An entire tasistal discovered; potentially never before documented

Posted Dicember 09, 2019

In October while visiting friends in Peten we were taken to an area that they told us no botanist or ecologist (that they are aware of) has seen or knew about in the recent 40 years.

We also doubt that earlier botanists were aware of this awesome tasistal: Cyrus Lundell should have been here in 1930’s-1960’s, he knew lots of pine savannas around La Libertad. Peten. But we have not yet found a Lundell documentation of this mass of Acoelorrhaphe wrightii palms. Botanists Standley, Steyermark and their capable team were definitely never hiking these trails (they missed much and probably most of Peten since they worked primarily from dried specimens in botanical gardens and university and natural history herbaria). If in fact no botanist or ecologist has ever visited or even realized that this tasistal existed, this is a sad conclusion. So we hope that someone can find previous mention of this area (it is a 5 minute walk from the Arroyo Petexbatun, 8 minutes downstream from Hotel Ecological Posada Caribe). We thank the owner and administrator of this property for permission to experience this frankly awesome ecosystem. We thank Julian Mariona Hotel Ecologico Posada Caribe for showing us this previously undocumented habitat.





Happy Thanksgiving from FLAAR 2019

Posted Nov 28, 2019

Happy thanksgiving 2016 message from Dr Nicholas FLAAR Reports MQ

Drawing is by two of our team: university graphic design student Mellany and student intern Maria Josefina, copyright 2019 FLAAR.

The ancient Maya of southern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala had a turkey species totally different than the North American turkey: the turkey of Guatemala is the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata).

We show here two felines getting ready to have their yummy turkey feast (there are five species of felines in Guatemala: jaguar, puma, jaguarundi, ocelot, and margay).

We hope you enjoy our thanksgiving day bird feast humor. Don’t worry, we do not eat wild ocellated turkeys; they are protected species.




Lots of Neotropical Flowers all November

Posted November 27, 2019

While cold waves sweep through many parts of the world we have lots of flowers in our research garden surrounding the office of FLAAR Mesoamerica, Guatemala City, elevation 1500 meters.

We will be posting photographs every month to show what is flowering. Our cacao trees (Theobroma cacao) were flowering about a month ago, but not many flowers today.

Last Christmas we found lots of trees and flowers blooming between Senahu and Chipemech, Alta Verapaz. May spend Christmas there this year (I work 7 days a week, all year; my Thanksgiving reward and Christmas rewards are being able to record more of the flowers of Guatemala, Central America. We hope you will visit and see them yourself.




“Sensitive plant,” Mimosa pigra and Mimosa pudica at Yaxha and Sayaxché

Posted October, 2019

There are several species of the popular “sensitive plant” in the Petén area of Guatemala: Mimosa pigra and Mimosa pudica. The Mimosa species that grows along the edges of lakes and rivers is the most common. We found thousands of this plant along the shores of Lake Yaxha and especially along the seasonally inundates shores of Rio Ixtinto (southwest part of Laguna Yaxha, Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo). Sensitive plants are the popular plants that close their leaves when touched.

Morning Glory Vines and Flowers of Yaxha Morning Glory Vines and Flowers of Yaxha Morning Glory Vines and Flowers of Yaxha

Click to enlarge image
Mimosa at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, Peten, Guatemala

Click to enlarge image
Mimosa along Arroyo Petexbatun, Sayaxche, Peten, Guatemala.

Click to enlarge image
Mimosa along Rio San Pedro, Peten.

The Mimosa that likes waterlogged areas along rivers is found “by the millions” along Arroyo Petexbatun. This stream flows from the Laguna Petexbatun area to Sayaxché where it joins the Rio La Pasión. We were visiting friends at the hotel Posada Caribe and noticed kilometer after kilometer of this riverside Mimosa. It is called zarza by local Peteneros. Zarza is also the name for the other sensitive plant, Mimosa pudica L., so we will need to double-check. But so far we estimate the wetlands Mimosa is M. pigra. We are preparing a full report to list all Mimosa species potentially available in wetlands of Peten; you will also find these in seasonally flooded ecosystems around Peten: Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Belize, Izabal and Alta Verapaz.

As a child my parents showed me equivalent sensitive plants, and often when visiting Petén people show me the fast-folding leaves of Mimosa pudica. Since we were in a boat and did not want to tip over, I avoided leaning over the side to test the sensitivity of the leaves. My interest is in ecosystems and biodiversity of plants of Guatemala, especially of the Mayan areas of Petén. The riverside Mimosa and another common plant Passiflora foetida are a giveaway for a seasonally flooded area. Most rivers and lakes in Petén rise several meters in water height during the rainy season, so any plants you see along the shore in October will often be totally underwater by November. In fact due to heavy rains the week before we were on the Arroyo Petexbatun, most of these Mimosa plants had their bases under water.




The maize and the milpa - National maize day in Guatemala

Posted August, 2019

The maize (Zea mays L.) is the most essential and culturally important crop in Mesoamerica. It’s an annual, monoecious species (with female and male reproductive organs in the same plant but separated) and its pollination is through the wind. His domestication took place in Oaxaca, Mexico, about 9,000 years ago (UNAM, 2017).

For the Mayan culture, the maize is an important element in their lives. In the story of the creation of the universe, in the Popol Vuh, is said that the gods had several attempts creating men until they achieved their purpose by creating men with maize. In addition, in the Mayan culture, Yum Kax is the God of agriculture, who controlled this sacred food (Nájera, 2004).

Maize is an important part of the milpa. Commonly, the maizefield is confused with the milpa. The maizefields are the set of maize, while the milpa comprises an ecosystem, where diverse species of flora and fauna interact, provides environmental services (such as pollination, soil fertility and biological control), contributes to human nutrition and has a cultural connotation (Biodiversidad Mexicana,n.d.).




Peer-reviewed Journal articles suggest Guatemala has no savannas!

Posted August 26, 2019

Several months ago, using aerial photographs, I noticed a probable savanna east of Nakum (Peten, Guatemala). With the assistance of our experienced team of local Peteneros and our capable team of FLAAR Mesoamerica, we hiked for kilometers, for hours, to reach this area. We thank the local guides, Teco and his associates, for getting us here.

To finally reach this savanna you climb a steep hill where there is a monumental geological fault, literally, the karst here is “split in two.” After you carefully walk around and then through and across the fault, you climb downhill (or slide downhill on the dry leaves since it is very steep).


Click to view the actual savanna without the trees blocking the view

Then you reach a point where, all of a sudden, you see kilometer after kilometer of grassland in front of you, framed by the trees (because you are still on the hill). I was so amazed that the first two field trips here I cried with sheer surprise and happiness. Literally, tears flowed down my face.

I know of savannas from the 1970’s, Lake Peten to La Libertad and to Sayaxche. And around Poptun: lots of pine savanna everywhere. But having lived for 12 months at Tikal in 1965, I am more accustomed to hillside and hilltop forests. And from hiking, on foot, to El Mirador (leading tour groups), I know what a bajo is. But to see kilometers of savanna at the base of the forested hill in Parque National Yaxha Nakum Naranjo, wow, what a great reality check for biodiversity.

Then tonight (August 25), while doing research on plant habits (habits, not habitats) and on ecosystems, I came across a typical statement that “savannas are found in southern Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua…etc.” Ouch, Guatemala is not listed. Yet even if these botanists and ecologists have never set foot in PNYNN, there are the better known savannas all across the middle of Peten.

Anyway, this is one of dozens of examples that there is a lot of flora and fauna in Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo which is missing from monographs and articles and reports. The park co-administrators: IDAEH and CONAP are facilitating our collaborative research on the plants and fauna: their assistance has allowed us to document that the savannas here in PNYNN are very different than in Belize and totally different than around Poptun, and south and west of Lake Peten Itza (and different than the pine savanna several kilometers northeast of the northeast corner of the Parque Nacional Tikal). In addition to trees, grasses (reeds and sedges). we are noting mosses, lichen, shrubs. A lot more to come.

Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo is well worth visiting to experience the remarkable flora and fauna.



Savanna-like area (Lake Yaxha, Peten, Guatemala) covered with Cassytha filiformis (love vines)

Updated August 28, 2019
First posted July 23, 2019

About every two months (from August 2018 through July 2019) we visit the south shore of Lake Yaxha, the southern area of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. On each visit we noted lots of the common thin orange parasitic vine wandering around on the ground, searching for plants to visit and suck their life-system. This July, from the boat (kindly provided every month by the park administrators IDAEH and CONAP), I noticed a yellow glow about 10 meters inland from the shore. So I asked the lanchero to go towards the shore so I could step off and inspect the orange color. Turned out it was a series of savanna-like areas with the ground literally covered with this parasitic vine.


Click to enlarge image
This pano was taken with an iPhone Xs. We will be preparing a full report with our dozen panoramas of this area by Dr Nicholas (Hellmuth) plus nice close-up macro photographs by Maria Alejandra Gutierrez.

Since there is a nearly identical vine on our family farm in Missouri (Cuscuta, dodder), and as I have seen the same vine in many areas of Alta Verapaz and above Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, I assumed the identical vine at Yaxha was also a species of the Genus Cuscuta.

There are several species of Cuscuta, in different ecosystems around the Americas. We have Cuscuta growing around bushes that stand out of the water in beaver-dam flooded areas on our family farm in the Missouri Ozarks. From a distance it looks identical to the Cuscuta from Guatemala (except here in Missouri it has adapted to snow and ice during the winter).

There is also lots of Cuscuta around Solola, en route to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Over the years we have found and photographed many locations with Cuscuta vines in different ecosystems of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. I love the color and thin spaghetti diameter of the vine. The flowers are miniature and pretty. How this vine survives is great reading (just Google it).

But after I learned there is a literally identical parasitic vine named Cassytha filiformis, I spent several days doing research and was surprised to learn that only Cassytha filiformis is found in Belize and Campeche and Peten: not much Cuscuta species in any of these areas. So now I estimate that the thousands of vines at Yaxha are also Cassytha filiformis. As soon as we are back at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo we will do macro photography and check the odor of the vine: Cuscuta evidently has no odor, but Cassytha filiformis has an easily detectable smell. We are working on a bibliography to show you where to find all this information.


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Botanical Terms

Ecosystems, Wetlands Aquatic Plants

Smartphone Camera Reviews

Fungi and Lichens

Consulting cacao & Theobroma species

Tobacco Ingredients of Aztec & Maya

Bombacaceae, Bombacoideae

Plants and trees used to produce incense

Camera Reviews for Photographing Flowers and Plants

Flowers native to Guatemala visible now around the world

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Fruits (typical misnomer mishmash of Spanish language)

Fruits (vines or cacti)

Flowers, sacred

Plants or trees that are used to produce incense

We Thank Gitzo, 90% of the photographs of plants, flowers and trees in Guatemala are photographed using a Gitzo tripod, available from Manfrotto Distribution.
We thank Hoodman, All images on this site are taken with RAW CF memory cards courtesy of Hoodman.
Pachira aquatica, zapoton, zapote bobo, crucial sacred flower for Maya archaeologists and iconographers
Read article on Achiote, Bixa orellana, annatto, natural plant dye for coloring (and flavoring) food (especially cacao drink) in Guatemala and Mexico.
Read article on Cuajilote or Caiba: Parmentiera aculeata, a forgotten fruit.
Read article on Split leaf philodendron, Monstera deliciosa.
Read article on Gonolobus, an edible vine from Asclepiadaceae Family.
Pachira aquatica, zapoton, zapote bobo, crucial sacred flower for Maya archaeologists and iconographers
Flor de Mayo,Plumeria rubia, plumeria alba, plumeria obtusa. Edible flower used to flavor cacao
Guanaba, annona squamosa, Chincuya, Annona purpurea, Sugar apple, Chirimoya

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